Weekend Preserver Series: Canning Rebels and Canning Police

Canning rebels and canning police. 

Canning rebels do what they want and tend to rebuff some talk about food safety: "I can do what I want." Here are a few things that canning rebels can be found doing: canning butter and milk, canning green beans in a water bath canner, canning fruit in half gallon jars, reusing canning jar lids, canning in the oven, changing processing times to suit their schedule, and the list goes on.

Food police follow the letter of the canning law as they know it but at times don't keep up-to-date with food safety research and science: "You can't do that, you'll kill your family." Here are a few things that canning police can be found doing: posting on the internet explaining how other canners are wrong while citing chapter and verse, angrily stomping out of groups or message boards or kicking folks out who disagree, and generally patrolling the internet for canning infractions.

Update: May 22, 2017

For some reason that completely alludes me, this is one of the most popular posts on my site. And while there is not a single comment on this post, I regularly receive emails asking a specific canning safety question, asking about what books I use, or  wondering if pressure canning is risky or difficult.

Okay, pressure canning is a safe and reliable way to preserve food. It is economical and terrific if you are off grid or have an energy source that isn't reliable since pressure canned foods are shelf stable. One of the biggest bonuses is replacing store bought convenience foods with healthy, economical, homemade meals and meal makers in jars like soups, broths, pie fillings, meats, poultry, and fish. Pressure canning isn't difficult and I have a few recommendations:

  • Read the manual for the canner and be sure that it's in good working order before starting.
  • Have all your canning equipment set up and ready to go.
  • Can with as little distraction as possible.
  • Prepare the foods as directed in the recipe.
  • Have the recipe/canning instructions front and center to refer to and double check along the way.
  • Take notes so that you can check your work along the way and have something to refer back to. For example, it can be helpful to know how many jars of venison from a deer weighing x pounds or how many hours it took from beginning to end to can x ears of corn. It's nice to know how long a canning session takes so that you can schedule around other activities next time.

Books. I list some of the books that I recommend at the end of this post. The USDA Guide is a good and free start. Yes, the USDA risk adverse and data driven. No, the recommendations are not the same as in other countries, books, or websites. But, it's important to understand that some techniques have simply not had adequate research and/or funding for that research in the United States. A good example of newer research changing USDA recommendations is the somewhat recent change in the recommendations for steam canning. If I could only buy one canning book I would spend $18.00 on So Easy to Preserve that's only available from the University of Georgia. Why? I think it has the best all around information and recipes. Pressure canning is covered in detail, not just a teeny tiny section in the back of the book and there are sections on freezing and drying. So Easy to Preserve doesn't leave many questions, which is a nice thing! There are a ton of other canning books loaded with recipes but often the recipes are spins on the same ole recipes and focused mostly on sweet preserves and pickles which are boiling water bath canned.


 Wisconsin, 1939. In 1937, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was charged with working on the complex problem of farming and rural poverty. Self-sufficiency thus home food preservation were a part of the program. Library of Congress, Prints and Photography Division, FSA/OWI Collection, #LC-USF34- 060284-D.

Wisconsin, 1939. In 1937, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was charged with working on the complex problem of farming and rural poverty. Self-sufficiency thus home food preservation were a part of the program. Library of Congress, Prints and Photography Division, FSA/OWI Collection, #LC-USF34- 060284-D.

What does this have to do with The Weekend Preserver Series? Well, I would like to share where I stand with all of this talk or lack of talk regarding food safety so that you understand my perspective with the Weekend Preserver Series.

In the Weekend Preserver series, I strive to present the best information available from reliable sources so that you can make your own decision. For example, many people will continue to can butter. I haven't found any details on the CDC website pointing directly to home canned dairy-based butters as a source of an outbreak of botulism or other food borne illness. But, that alone doesn't tell us if anyone got sick. What to do? Gather the information related to canning oils and make your own decision. 

There's the question of canning jam and sweet preserves using the open kettle method. The open kettle method uses hot jars, hot jam, and hot lids. Rings are applied and the jars are allowed to seal overnight. In some cases folks also invert the jars. Sounds good. 

On one hand, I used the open kettle method over twenty years ago. On the other hand, I know that without water bath canning that there is still the possibility that I haven't excluded all the cooties and the seal simply isn't as strong as a seal created in a water bath canner.

What do I do? I water bath can jams and jellies. Yes, I know that the risk is small, perhaps minuscule, but it makes me feel better. 

Yes, I know that "all the Europeans", artisan jam creators, and Alice Waters use the open kettle method. Alice Waters detailed the open kettle method (and sterilizing jars in the oven) in her book The Art of Simple Food II in 2013; which I fretted over for at least an afternoon then I emailed June Taylor who shared her technique with Alice Waters for clarification. In the 2015 edition of Fundamentals of Food Safety and Preservation: Master Handbook (formerly the Food Safety Advisor Volunteer Handbook) it's detailed that in the case of full sugar preserves only:

If a fruit spread was sealed with paraffin or by the inversion method, the seal is intact and there are no signs of mold or other spoilage issues, the product is safe to consume. The high level of sugar and acid in full-sugar spreads assures pathogens will not grow in these products. This only applies to fruit spreads
— Fundamentals of Consumer Food Safety and Preservation: Master Handbook

Wait! I thought that we should never use paraffin!

There are exceptions, ifs, whens, and buts to "canning rules." Oils can be safely added to specific tested home canning recipes. There are cases in which flour or other thickeners are added. So, while the canning police might say never, it might be almost never or only in recipes that are current and include the exception. Some folks will never can lemon curd because of the eggs but I happily can lemon curd!

Not everything that a canning rebel does is super risky and not everything the canning police shout from the rooftops is 100% accurate. Not all risks are equal: water bath canning potatoes poses a higher risk than open kettle canning full sugar strawberry jelly.

So, as you head out on your canning journey check current reliable resources, understand the risks, and make your own decision. As always you proceed at your own risk.

Be safe and eat well.


Please be aware of acceptable modifications (University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension PDF, May 2015) that can be made to a home canning recipe--keep in mind that not all modifications, even popular ones are safe! 

If you are ever in doubt regarding safety, be sure to check a reliable resource. Even recently published books might contain recipes that are not suitable for safe home canning.